What About Brule?

At this point last year, Gilbert Brule was considered by many fans and pundits to be one of the cornerstones of the Edmonton Oilers’ rebuilding effort. Management evidently agreed; while (smartly) low-balling Andrew Cogliano, they offered Brule a two-year, $3.7-million contract

Unfortunately, Brule proved incapable of building on a breakout 2009-10, and this past season played in 24 less games (down to 41 from 65) while watching his point totals drop down to less than a quarter of what he managed the year before.

What do the Oilers do with him now?

Other Stuff That Happened

One of Brule’s problems is that his best-case scenario role on an NHL team is as a complementary scorer, and the Oilers are bursting at the seams with young offensive talent. Over this last season, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle have progressed to the point of being legitimate NHL scorers now, while Magnus Paajarvi’s rookie season was on par with Brule’s breakthrough effort. Beyond the three blue-chippers, Linus Omark has worked his way up from the American Hockey League and is probably above Brule on the depth chart at this point – and even he is on the outside looking in for top-six work. Then there’s the potential addition of a player like Nugent-Hopkins, Couturier or Landeskog to the mix via the Oilers’ first overall pick.

This season represented Brule’s best chance to establish himself as part of the Oilers’ core group of forwards as they rebuild, and the cost of that missed opportunity is clear: it will be much harder for him to work his way back into contention for a long-term job, especially on a scoring line.

The Buyout Option

One of the interesting things about Brule’s situation is that thanks to his age – he won’t turn 25 until January 1, 2012 – he finds himself in the same buyout ‘sweet spot’ that Patrick O’Sullivan and Robert Nilsson did last season, where the team only needs to spend one-third of the remaining dollars on his contract rather than twice that amount for an older player. Here’s the breakdown, courtesy of Cap Geek:

Gilbert Brule buyout from CapGeek.com:

  • 2011-12: $308,333
  • 2012-13: $308,333

It is a pretty minimal expense, really. If the team thought they could get a better performance from a player available via free agency for $1.0 million or so, they would be saving both money and cap space.

What I Expect

I don’t expect that the Oilers will buy out Brule, although I do think that there’s a case for it (his season this year was arguably worse than either O’Sullivan’s or Nilsson’s). The optics are worse (given that Tambellini just signed him a year ago, as opposed to acquiring him via trade for a free agent or inheriting him from Lowe), and there simply isn’t the same demand for blood from the fan-base as there was a year ago, though I think those are more auxiliary than primary issues.

I think there are two main reasons that we will see another year of Brule. First, it’s easy to call this year a write-off: when a player misses half the games, it’s not much of an assumption to guess that he was well below 100% for many of the games that he played in. Second, Brule combines potential goal-scoring ability with a high-energy, physical game, something that wasn’t the case for a player like Nilsson or O’Sullivan.

I expect that we will see Gilbert Brule on the opening night roster, most likely as a winger/secondary faceoff man on the Oilers’ fourth line.

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  • positivebrontefan

    I still haven’t heard what it was that kept Brule out of the lineup for half the year. He has always seemed like a real good character guy from the little bit that I’ve seen.

  • Shaun Doe

    With the physical edge and potential for offense that Brule brings, I don’t see him being out of place on the 3rd line. If Cogliano survives another off-season with the team then I could see some magic in a Brule-Cogs-Hartikainen line. Cogs and Brule could take turns at centre with Brule maybe taking the lion’s share of the face-offs. Maybe even have Jones and Brule moving up and down between the 3rd and 4th lines (if Jones is resigned). Just a thought

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    3rd or even 4th line is resonable spot for Brule, he’s similar to Jones in that his game is diverse enough that he can slide up and down the line-up for a few games if needed without looking out of place.

    I see no reason why he can’t tighten up his defense and be a solid 3rd line, energy winger that can chip in 15 – 20 goals, a Curtis Glencross or Moreau light if you will.

      • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

        Good thing 15 – 20 isn’t 20 and that their are 5 other potential targets in that range…. one of which he has hit, in about 80% of a season.

        Where did I say he’ll be a “shutdown winger” I said that I think he can tighen up his defense, theirs a difference between being a “shutdown winger” and a competent defensive player…. I would suspect alot of players get better defensively as they get into their mid 20’s.

        I do find it funny that we seem to give some guys the benifit of the doubt that they will likely improve, but we wont to others.

  • oilbaron

    I’d like to see him in the bottom six. He’s physical, has a good shot and drives to the net. I think we need a player like him pounding opponents against the boards and driving the puck to the net.

  • book¡e

    It’s impossible to draw any conclusions regarding Brule without knowing what is going on healthwise. One would suspect that it is more severe than Comrie’s mono or we would have heard.

    For me the book on Brule for this past season is that he was facing an unknown health issue. We can’t fault the GM or Brule for that (at least not with what we know) and thus it’s a push. We also can’t predict his future other than to say it’s rather uncertain due to an unknown ailment.

  • Freezing Weather Fan

    No harm in keeping him. He uses up 1 contract for 1 year. If he plays… Good! If he’s sick, then he’s on IR all year. Small risk for a decent reward. Worst case he sucks and isn’t sick. Well he’s not going to win us the cup, but he isn’t going to cost us the cup either.

  • CanaDave

    Would the Oilers be able to buy out Brule and bring him back at the lower price? I’m honestly surprised that he played 41 games this year because I don’t remember him playing in even that many, which I think says a lot about the season that he had this past year.

    Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be disappointed if a healthy Brule is back for the Oilers net year, but his position on the roster right now, to me at least, looks like a prime candidate to be filled by a more veteran player. Plus, with the emergence of Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi and Omark last year and the Oilers commitment to their draft picks, I’d say it might be best for him to be on a team where he has a more realistic crack to get a top 6 position.

    • EasyOil

      There would be no point in doing that whatsoever, imo. The Oilers have more than enough cap room to keep him for another year. The kid is useful even when he’s not scoring, in terms of banging bodies and taking faceoffs, so it wouldn’t be the end of the world to give him another year to see if he can match last years output and stay healthy. No point in buying him out. He’s exactly the sort of player a team loves to have on their 4th line (if he can stay healthy), because he’s fairly versatile and generally not a liability on the ice. Keep Brule, flush JFJ. As I mentioned in LTs Norm Lacombe post, Brule seems to be having a remarkably similar career to Lacombe, who was a very useful player, but nothing more than complimentary. Nothing wrong with that.

  • Freezing Weather Fan

    I don’t see any benefit of buying him out. The Oilers have minimal depth among any position, keep Brule in the lineup until there is someone better to replace him. I wouldn’t be worried if he played in Oklahoma if he doesn’t work out and passes through waivers after a legitimate better player surfaces.
    I also believe there is some sort of illness going on similar to the Pisani situation, but that is pure speculation. I hope he comes back healthy and takes a page out of the Tootoo/Clutterbuck game.

  • oilbaron

    I would lvoe to see a fourth line of Hartikainen on LW, VandeVelde at C and Brule on the RW. It could be a physical line which could create some havoc in the offensive zone and be responsible defensively.

    Then invest in some free agents to compete on the 3rd line. (Upshall, Glencross).

  • VMR

    I’d buy him out in a second if I was sure any of our prospects are ready to make the jump. Unfortunately I believe the buyout period is over by the time training camp starts so we wont know until it’s too late. I guess with the Oilers injury situation it doesnt hurt to have him around but if we’re also looking to bring in a defensive forward/faceoff specialist via free agency using up a roster spot for Brule seems questionable.

  • VMR

    I’ll echo the sentiments of a few others. I think they should keep Brule for another year – just to give him a chance at a healthy, rebound year.

    If he goes through another year of “illnesses,” then I’d re-evaluate this time next year.

    But now, I’m not sure if I’m all that crazy about cutting a guy simply because he was injured and sick.

    Also – kudos to you who chip in to help out Slave Lake. Nice work.

  • @ OB1:

    The basic issue is that I think the stars and planets aligned for Brule in 2009-10. The guy’s average point total prior to that was less than 20 over an 82-game season, which is right about where he was this season.

    He had some bad luck early so my guess is that he’s a little better than that, but that he will continue to battle injuries until they eventually claim his career completely.

    He’s a mess defensively. I’d guess that’s the reason the Oilers keep punting one of their best faceoff men to the wing.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      He’s also averaged 13 goals for every 82 games played up to age 24.

      Probably not a stretch to see him putting in 3-4 more per 82 games past 24.

      15 goals/30 points is pretty resonable 3rd line numbers and with an 82 game average pace of 13/25 by age 24 that seems pretty resonable.

      • If Brule can score 15/30 while playing responsibly and adding energy, he’d be useful no doubt.

        But 15/30 isn’t good enough to hold a place on a scoring line, and Brule hasn’t shown the defensive ability to hold a spot on a checking line (IMO).

        So we need to see good progression either offensively/defensively for Brule to climb into regular top-nine role, and that won’t happen if he keeps getting hurt – which, given his style of play and track record to date is what I expect.

        • positivebrontefan

          Its not all bad. Even if he doesn miss another 30 games next year at least that gives the Oilers the opportunity to bring up some guys from the AHL and get them some NHL experience.

      • VMR

        Yeah but what else does he bring to the table?

        Those numbers are decent but you also want some defence and/or physical play. He does bring the physical at times but not sure if it’s enough for a smaller guy.

      • VMR

        Smarter player, better defensively, developing into a decent penalty killer, healthier, more consistent, has produced more offensively over his career. I think that about does it.

        Brule had one good season where he was getting a lot of bounces, i.e. the astronomical rise in his shooting %. Cogliano has had two seasons that were better than Brule’s best and his career has been more consistant.

  • DieHard

    Brule was a 6th overall pick. Unless injuries/illness short circuit his career, he has to have some value to the Oilers. A buy out gives us nothing. He may not fit the Oilers long term but he is an NHL player. Surely he can fit somewhere.

    • I agree that he’s an NHL player, and because of that (and other reasons, many of them mentioned by folks here in the comments) I’m luke-warm on a buyout.

      However, if Brule’s actual value is $850K, and I was spending my money, I could buyout Brule and spend $850K on an $850K player, and be saving almost half a million bucks next year.

      It’s similar to Nilsson/O’Sullivan in that way – the buyouts didn’t improve the team, but they saved the owner some money.

  • Milli

    I hope the kid gets a real good chance next year, maybe third libe banger who can score? I think he can show up and play, if not, try and deal him in a package.

  • striker777

    I like Brule, but they just need to sort out his health issues. He provides that necessary grit. He will need to start on the 4th line and work his way up. This buy-out talk is crazy. You only buy-out players, when you make a run for the Cup and need those additional ingredients to put you over the top.
    Let Brule play and show why he deserves a job in the NHL. When he’s healthy, he hits everything in his way. His next contract should be reflective of his last 2 seasons though. Nothing too high.

  • CanaDave

    I agree that I’d rather have Brule on this team than JFJ, who’s got to be out of chances by now. I’m just not sold on him at his current price tag like JW said above. I know that Brule’s career progression has been horribly managed to this point but the Oilers are already going to have enough works in progress on the roster next season, so if they can find a NHL veteran like a Rob Niedermayer or Scott Nichol to put in that spot instead, it’s a move they should make.